Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that adds moisture, tenderness, and a tangy flavor to cakes. It also interacts with leavening agents, resulting in a light and fluffy texture. However, if you find yourself without buttermilk in your pantry or have dietary restrictions, fear not! In this article, we will delve into various substitutes for buttermilk in cake recipes, ensuring that you can still achieve a delectable cake without compromising on taste and texture.

Substitutes for Buttermilk in Cake

Understanding Buttermilk in Cake Baking

Before exploring the substitutes, let’s understand why buttermilk is a prized ingredient in cake baking. Buttermilk is the acidic liquid left behind after churning butter. It is slightly thick and has a tangy flavor, making it an excellent addition to cakes. The acid in buttermilk reacts with baking soda or baking powder, creating carbon dioxide bubbles that contribute to the cake’s rise and tenderness.

Common Substitutes for Buttermilk

Common Substitutes for Buttermilk

1. Milk and Lemon Juice/Vinegar:

One of the most popular substitutes for buttermilk is a combination of milk and lemon juice or vinegar. To make this substitute, simply add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup and then pour enough milk to make one cup. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before using. This mixture will have a similar acidity to buttermilk and help activate the leavening agents.

When using this substitute, keep in mind that the texture of the cake might be slightly denser than with buttermilk. However, it will still maintain a moist and tender crumb. The flavor will have a hint of tanginess, reminiscent of traditional buttermilk.

2. Yogurt

Yogurt is another excellent substitute for buttermilk in cakes. It adds moisture and acidity, similar to buttermilk, resulting in a tender and flavorful cake. Opt for plain yogurt without any added flavors or sweeteners. Greek yogurt or regular yogurt both work well as substitutes.

To use yogurt as a substitute, simply replace the buttermilk in the recipe with an equal amount of yogurt. If the yogurt is too thick, you can thin it out by adding a small amount of water until you achieve a pourable consistency. The cake will have a slightly tangy taste and a moist crumb, making it a delightful alternative to buttermilk.

3. Sour Cream

Sour cream is another suitable substitute for buttermilk, as it possesses a similar tangy flavor and creamy texture. It adds richness and moisture to the cake, resulting in a tender and decadent treat. Use full-fat sour cream for the best results.

Substitute the buttermilk with an equal amount of sour cream in your recipe. To ensure the cake doesn’t become overly dense, you may need to add a bit of liquid such as water or milk to adjust the batter’s consistency. The sour cream will impart a creamy, tangy flavor to the cake, making it an irresistible alternative to buttermilk.

4. Milk and Cream of Tartar

If you’re out of buttermilk but have milk and cream of tartar on hand, you can create a suitable substitute. Cream of tartar is an acidic powder that, when combined with milk, replicates the tanginess of buttermilk.

To make this substitute, mix one cup of milk with 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar and let it sit for a few minutes before using it in the recipe. The cream of tartar will react with the milk, mimicking the acidity of buttermilk and providing a tender texture to the cake. Keep in mind that the flavor profile might be slightly different, but the cake will still turn out moist and delicious.

Other Alternatives

Apart from the mentioned substitutes, there are a few additional alternatives worth considering. Kefir, a fermented milk beverage similar to yogurt, can be used as a one-to-one replacement for buttermilk. Additionally, buttermilk powder, when reconstituted with water, can provide the tanginess and texture similar to fresh buttermilk. Finally, for those with lactose intolerance or dairy-free preferences, almond milk or other non-dairy milk options can be used in combination with lemon juice or vinegar to replicate the acidity of buttermilk.

Tips and Considerations

When using these substitutes, it’s important to consider a few adjustments to ensure the best possible outcome for your cake:

  1. Adjusting the Recipe: Since the substitutes may vary in consistency and acidity compared to buttermilk, it’s crucial to adjust other liquid ingredients in the recipe accordingly. For instance, if you’re using a thicker substitute like yogurt or sour cream, you might need to add a little more liquid (water or milk) to maintain the desired batter consistency. Similarly, if your substitute is less acidic than buttermilk, you may need to slightly increase the amount of baking powder to compensate for the reduced leavening effect.
  2. Flavor Variations and Complementary Ingredients: While the substitutes can provide a similar texture and tanginess to buttermilk, they also offer the opportunity to experiment with different flavor profiles. Consider incorporating complementary ingredients such as citrus zest, vanilla extract, or spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. These additions can enhance the flavor of the substitute and create a unique and delightful cake experience.


Buttermilk undoubtedly plays a crucial role in baking, providing moisture, tenderness, and flavor to cakes. However, when buttermilk is unavailable or doesn’t suit your dietary needs, these substitutes come to the rescue. From milk and lemon juice to yogurt or sour cream, each alternative offers its own distinct qualities, ensuring that your cakes remain moist, tender, and utterly delicious. Remember to make any necessary adjustments to the recipe and have fun experimenting with flavors to find your favorite substitute. Happy baking!

Read more: Substitutes for Heavy Whipping Cream

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